Culture & Society

Fragrant Memories: The Quintessential Smells Of Home

A prose that leads readers down the memory lane of aromas, smells, fragrances and odours that eterenally breath fresh life into old memories.

Damp shiulis

Sometimes I visualise myself running, desperate to say my final goodbyes to my childhood... it had an untimely demise. I see my shiny, dark-brown long pony bouncing on my lower back. My eyes twinning with my hair sans the shine in them , a slump face, an enmeshed look, a vapid resignation yet dispersing a nonconformist overtone. 
An iridescent shadow falls, where peaceful ruin lay. As a beggar I wander timidly, lost, asking for my childhood in alms. Wearing an eerie silence across my face I see myself running, arms outstretched, longing to feel the final, fervid touch - a touch of my periwinkle days. It has a scent - a soft, delicate, earthy - all encompassing! 

Nostalgia seeps in through the cracks of my heart and builds a home ! And then, I do not need to rehearse my best crescent. Smile involuntarily trickles down with pearls of tears and I feel the cosy warmth of it on my bare skin and soul! My memory is fettered intricately to my olfactory organ.

Often, certain evenings have a very pronounced smell, smell that smells like Home! My sense of smell is the fastest mode of transport to my childhood days. 
I remember the little local stores lined at both sides of the narrow lane of my hometown , snuggled in a rustic lap, wafting an arenaceous smell . 
I remember a grocer who sold among other things, imli chatni sealed in tiny plastic see-through packets, I drool to this day, just to think about the piquant smell of it. There was a neighbourhood snack shop , we fondly called Munna dada’s shop. A place that sold the best samosasa and jalebis. I remember taking a deep inhalation, filling my lungs with the smell of all things sweet and fried, every time I crossed his shop.

I remember Baiju dada’s grocery shop. He took one order at a time, which he wrote on a little pad of ruled paper with a pen refill he kept behind his ear. I still wonder as to why he never used a pen.
Sometimes his daughter, a pretty teenager, appeared behind the counter, who spoke perfect Maithili . That shop had a typical smell of jaggery that I can still smell while writing this. 

The smell of that lichi tree in our backyard. The smell of the mango tree, they call Lengra aam! The smell of unripen mangoes, knocked-off due to sudden feral wind or the constant pecking by an optimistic bird. And the smell of our puddle drenched feet while collecting the treasure we fondly called “Tikola” ( unripe mangoes). 
The smell of earth during Kalbaishakhi, and the smell of the notorious air that teased our senses during festive seasons! The smell of Shiuli phool ( parijaat flower) as we collected them during Durga Puja, the smell of that guava tree that birthed pink guavas and intrigued a four-year old me. The smell of those little fledgelings in our garden. The Koshi river’s gentle tug at the heart strings. 

The smell of Babai’s (dad) paan ( betel), and the smell of Mamma’s hug ( she has a typical soothing smell) , the smoky smell of my granny’s saree as she made different kind of mishtis (sweets) for us, starting from Labanga Latika to shor bhaja, in earthen stove. Sometimes, she smelled of her favourite fragrance mixed with light perspiration. She also smelled of unadulterated love and warm hugs. She smelled of love sodden evenings as we crooned to her favourite Rabindrasangeet.

I remember the quintessential smell of our Home!

How I feel every little thing has an archetypal smell of its own. The smell that wafts from that old shindook ( Big aluminium box) that lay in solitude in our attic. The shindook,( Box) that is a safe haven of precious keepsakes. 

I confess, at the risk of sounding weird, that I love that soggy smell of everything old! They pronounce my beknown dreams. 

The smell of that blue rubber ball I used to play ‘Pithho’ with! The smell of all those old books in our home library causes a thunder in my chest. 

The smell of the lazy childhood summer days spent devouring my favourite story books.

Some fragrances and nonenal smells link us to those who were once-loved immensely and never forgotten. I felt an incommunicable poignancy that came with the early realisation that my grandmother was young once. Doing all the things that young people did. 

Today, as I stand here in my balcony, sipping my favourite Darjeeling tea, I can smell all these and much more!

I miss the mellow, attentive experience of my tiny village. It wasn’t long before I understood that its slowness gifted a magical bliss. That’s why I long for it intensely, deeply, hopelessly! The thoughtful slowness feels rare now in our cities where everything is insanely, incessantly on the run . And the older I get, the more I miss it! .

I smell the smell of Nostalgia, wistfulness, melancholy. A reminder that all is a matter of flux! 

Though tears blur my eyesight, I can see, smell, feel, touch “Those days” that are gone, but not really gone!